Readers Helping Writers in Tough Times

How you can support authors for free via Goodreads

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

When funds are tight, buying new books is often considered a luxury rather than a necessity, even among the most avid readers. Free ebooks become more popular, and authors who can sell their titles online for very low prices might see increased sales. But most authors in tough times will find their sales dip or never even take off, especially if their books have been published during an economic downturn.

Luckily, even when they can’t afford to buy books, readers can give authors a helping hand by spreading the word about the books they’re looking forward to reading on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially Goodreads. Ideally, avid readers could not only follow authors on Goodreads but buy all the books they want and post insightful, five-star reviews of every title they enjoy. For many readers, however, buying every book they want to read and posting reviews of them costs money and time they just can’t spare.

Turns out that simply selecting the Want to Read button on the Goodreads page of a book, even if the book hasn’t been published yet, can contribute to sales. This helps even if you eventually end up borrowing that book from a library or a friend and not buying an actual copy. According to Goodreads, data from such “shelvings” can lead Goodreads to add books to the lists of hot titles they post at different times of the year. As anyone in the book publishing industry will tell you, the buzz around a book — often regardless of how it’s created — can contribute significantly to sales.

In a 2018 case study of how Penguin Press effectively promoted Celeste Ng’s bestseller, Little Fires Everywhere, on its platform, Goodreads discusses a variety of strategic steps the publisher took. In a discussion of “social amplification,” Goodreads states: “Social sharing is built into every activity on Goodreads. When people enter a giveaway, a story appears in the newsfeed of their friends, essentially creating a mini advertisement for the book. When someone posts a review, a story shows up in the newsfeed, helping more people discover books to read. And if someone hears about a great book in the media and adds it to their Want to Read shelf, their friends see this in their newsfeed, providing another wave of reminders about the book.”

Among those three actions — entering giveaways, posting reviews, and adding titles to your Want to Read shelf — only posting reviews can potentially cost you some time and real effort. All these steps cost nothing — and they can help you support authors, maybe even authors you’ve just discovered. Through the Goodreads Giveaways program, you might even snag some free books. All you do is select a giveaway for a title you’d like to read, enter your mailing address, agree to the terms of the program, and select enter. As Goodreads notes, your friends on the platform will be alerted to each of your entries, helping to spread awareness of those books.

What Goodreads Lacks

As OneZero columnist Angela Lashbrook points out in “Almost Everything About Goodreads Is Broken,” Goodreads is far from an ideal platform for authors to promote their books. Author-reader interactions are limited, and trolls run rampant and can do significant damage to book ratings. Readers also complain that they’re tired of the limited, old-school features Goodreads offers, and those in the book industry wish Amazon would invest some of its bottomless resources into revamping the popular site to make it accessible and effective for all types of publishers. With so many using Goodreads and so many readers, authors, and publishers eager to put it to good use, it’s a shame the site has been neglected since Amazon acquired it in 2013. By the end of that year, Goodreads membership had doubled to nearly 20 million. Currently that number tops 90 million.

Despite its shortcomings, Goodreads does currently seem to be the best option out there for readers who want to keep track of the books they’ve read and discover some new reads along the way. And it remains a critical tool for publishers and authors eager to promote their books. So give your favorite (or even new-to-you) authors a hand and enter giveaways for their books, post reviews when you can, and put that Want to Read button to good use — even if you know you’ll never be able to read all the books on your list.

I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction when I’m not working as a copy editor. Author of the novel One Sister’s Song.

Written by

Bylines in Publishers Weekly, the Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, others. One Sister’s Song (novel). Not Nearly Everything You Need to Know About Writing (ebook).

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